There will be some new coaches behind the bench at the Airdrie Techmation Thunder’s games this season.
Well, maybe “new” isn’t the right adjective.
Former head coach Randy Buckle, who coached the Thunder from 2015 to 2017, is returning to the junior B Thunder for his second stint as the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) team’s bench boss. He replaces Chad Moore, who coached the squad for the last two seasons.
“I’m excited [to be] back at it,” said Buckle. “It’s a lot of time [to commit] but a lot of fun, too, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Buckle isn’t the only new coaching appointment for the Thunder this offseason – in fact, the team’s front office has busy throughout the spring and summer, scouting prospective players and assembling a coaching staff.
In addition to Buckle, Mark Jackson will be the team’s assistant coach, while Kris Kennedy – who helped coach the Airdrie Lightning U15 AA Lightning to a league banner last season – was brought in as the Thunder’s goaltender coach.
Derek Dunn and his son Brayden, the overtime hero in the Thunder’s provincial championship-winning game in 2019, will be the team’s scouts this season.
Shaun Guest, who coached the Airdrie Lightning U18 AA boys’ team last winter, will be the team’s new general manager. Like Buckle, Guest has been involved with the Thunder in the past.
“It used to be the owner who was more the general manager – Gord Ziegler and Larry Smith, [who are] the owners of the team,” Buckle said. “They used to do most of that work and now they’re passing it onto other people. Shaun Guest has been around a while and I have known him for years. He’s stepped in as GM and has really helped us in the last two months he’s been here.”
Together, the new staff will look to steer the Thunder back toward a shot at the HJHL title. Airdrie’s last banner win came in 2019. Since then, the Okotoks Bisons have dominated the junior B league's south division, while the Cochrane Generals and Red Deer Vipers have been the top teams in the north.
Last year, the Thunder made the second round of the HJHL playoffs, before falling in a five-game series to the Red Deer Vipers.
In preparation for the upcoming campaign, the Thunder’s summer skates started on Aug. 23 and will wrap up on Aug. 30. According to Buckle, the first few sessions were positive as a combination of junior rookies and vets shook off their summer rust.
“We thought the young guys actually showed a lot, which is good,” he said.
Following the summer skates, Airdrie’s main camp will run Sept. 8 to 15, before the team’s final roster for the 2022-23 season is determined. During that week, The Thunder will also play a trio of preseason exhibition games, including a home-and-home series against the Cochrane Generals on Sept. 9 and 10 and the Okotoks Bisons on Sept. 11.
Following those first-looks, the Thunder will finish off their preseason schedule with additional home-and-home exhibition games against the Mountainview Colts on Sept. 16 and 17. The regular season will get underway the following weekend.
Buckle said the majority of players from last year’s Thunder roster are back this season, which bodes well for team chemistry.
“I’d say there’s at least 13 to 14 returning players, and we usually protect around 20 or 22,” he said. “There’s definitely opportunity for a few kids – the younger kids moving up from midget to junior.”
The team’s HJHL season-opener is on Sept. 23, when Airdrie hosts the visiting Mountainview Colts from Didsbury. Puck-drop is set for 8 p.m. at the Ron Ebbesen Arena. The Thunder will then host the Ponoka Stampeders in the same rink the following night, at 7:15 p.m.
“I think we’ll have a competitive team,” Buckle said. “I think the boys are ready to go. They’re just itching to get at it now.”